An interview with Berta Caceres of COPINH
By Bryan Rogers y Gloria Jiménez
In July of 2013, Lenca leader, Tomás Garcia, who was unarmed, was murdered by Honduran Military forces at the main gates of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam as the indigenous Lenca people were protesting its construction on their ancestral lands. There are three key Honduran military officers involved who have direct ties to U.S. military training.
The trial was held in La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras and on the final day of the hearing on December 8, 2015, Berta Cáceres from COPINH (the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) spoke to Witness for Peace outside of the courthouse.
What will COPINH do if this is another case of impunity?
Given how the supposed justice system operates in Honduras, impunity is rather likely. More than 100 indigenous leaders, men and women, have been murdered with impunity and for many years individuals in power have been implicated in these murders, all of which occurred while defending their land, culture, spirituality, in defense of Mother Nature’s communal goods. And the case of Tomas Garcia and Alan could be yet another disgrace in which we’ve been living, which is the product of all the marginalization within in completely unjust system. We will exhaust all possible procedures at the national and international levels, and we will continue the struggle, one that will honor both Tomas Garcia, who sacrificed his life, and Alan because he is a young man that, despite his young age – only 16 when the incident occurred – he has been very strong, he’s been an example, an inspiration, truly an inspiration, not only there in Rio Blanco, but throughout this entire process.
And it’s about increasing mobilization and our capacity to advocate for changes in the judicial culture of this country that does not at all respect the rights of indigenous communities, despite having ratified conventions like [ILO] 169, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and other instruments. So this is also a way to follow…we have various avenues all in the search for justice and respect of our indigenous people’s rights, and to build solidarity because it’s very important that these despotic governments, this despotic justice system, an oppressor ironically full of injustice must feel international pressure and observation, the judgment of national and international community, that’s not going take place in a courthouse, or…maybe it will, but there must be a process that will really attempt to change the situation of, as we always say, “the reign of impunity” under which we live in Honduras.
What would be a fair sentencing in this case?
Prison for Tomas’ killer and that justice be applied under the full weight of the law, as it must be, for the attempted murder of our brother, Alan Garcia, because it’s overwhelmingly clear that he [the accused] intended to kill him. The ballistics experts and the medical examiner made that very clear and they made it clear that Tomas – which is something they [the defense] tried to argue–that Tomas did not attempt to attack the military officer, and because of that, he [the military officer] was acting in self-defense–it is completely false. So, innocence is proven, and in some way, we have to say because it’s been a strong Lenca campaign because they wanted to portray him [Tomas] as the aggressor.
Can you describe the present situation in Rio Blanco?
Very tough. Very tough. It could even be that these events repeat themselves, an even in a way that is more aggressive. DESA has returned with all of their machinery. The community is organizing almost daily, there are special orders that are even financed and trained directly from the U.S. as is the case with Los Tigres, or the military police that has an illegal and unconstitutional paramilitary structure. We’ve seen the arrogance, the threats, the constant shots fired into the air with their guns — the same thing that they did when we were there in 2013, and the same thing that they’re doing in a more aggressive way, promoting a lot of hatred. The mayor of San Francisco de Ojuera and that company [DESA] have publically used racist insults, full of disdain, full of misogyny, machista insults, loaded with sexual insults towards us as women. Direct threats to our lives as we had last week…such highly illogical things that you don’t see in other parts of the world. The mayor ordered the roads to be torn up in order to impede the mobilization of COPINH. It’s something that is unacceptable. It is despicable, irrational. But it’s sanctioned in this country. It’s sanctioned. It’s seen as ok from the powers that be and from the mainstream media of domination. I’ve seen many cases of discrimination, of racism.
And what we saw yesterday has been one of the worst that I have seen, that I’ve witnessed. The situation in Rio Blanco is that the company, DESA, claims that it’s outside of Intibucá, but like we said, the Lenca territory has no limits, nor a department, or even a national boundaries, and so they are boundaries that colonialization has imposed, domination. Furthermore, the Lenca territory occupied most of this country that today is called Honduras. And historically, Santa Barbara was settled by the Lenca people. And the Gualcarque River is not two, but just one. And it is over the Gualcarque that the company, DESA is once again intending to develop the Agua Zarga dam project, financed by the FMO [Dutch development bank], whom we condemn and hold responsible for the murder of our brother, Tomas, because they have been involved in everything, the impunity and the racism. The FMO – the Dutch bank – and FINFUN of Finland, both with majority shares of their governments, of the governments of those countries.
It’s something that we’re living through in the worst era in five hundred years. The imposition of one of the most violent and vicious transnational dictatorships that we’ve ever seen. Facing this, we must fight in an extremely adverse context, as we’ve seen here during this struggle in Rio Blanco, and the struggle has gotten stronger. The fight in Rio Blanco is not only about territorial mobilization, of oppositional mobilization. It’s about growing our organizational and communications capacity, of building solidarity. It’s nationwide, and it’s legal. We’re undertaking a legal struggle, taking advantage of all the open doors that are available along with our colleagues – like those who have accompanied us during this trial – who have worked with integrity in the search for justice for Tomas and Alan.
Finally, what is your message to the international community? Basically, to activate all the possible avenues of activism: from mobilization to observation, actions outside the Honduran embassies in foreign countries. To utilize all the possible resources in their capacity, whether that’s publishing and disseminating information, applying political pressure, making phone calls, writing letters to the court before Thursday would be extremely helpful, this is urgent. In general, supporting the struggle of the Lenca in Rio Blanco and the work of COPINH.
Anything else you would like to add?
We truly believe in solidarity and in hope despite how hurtful this process is. And we can only think of how our brother, Tomas, is no longer with us, of how much he is missed, not just by his family– his sons and daughters, but by COPINH as well. And despite everything that’s happened, we still have hope in our people’s struggle.